ITV, the UK commercial broadcaster, is apparently engaged in talks to join the consortium that runs Freeview, the free-to-air digital terrestrial television service.

Discussions are understood to be underway between ITV and DTV Services, the company responsible for marketing Freeview.

Freeview was formed following the commercial failure of ONdigital, latterly ITV Digital, that was previously provided by Carlton and Granada before their merger to form ITV plc.

The Freeview consortium, consisting of the BBC, the transmission company Crown Castle International, and British Sky Broadcasting, won the bid to take over the service.

This led to the re-allocation of the bundles of digital channels, known as multiplexes, with the BBC adopting an additional multiplex, and Crown Castle managing a further two.

The transmission system was also modified, from a system known as 64QAM to 16QAM, to improve the robustness of the digital signal.

However, the multiplexes carrying ITV and Channel Four services, and S4C in Wales, continued to use the original transmission mode.

The Freeview package also promotes these services, including regional ITV channels, ITV2, ITV News, and Channel 4.

The BBC has aggressively marketed its own digital services available on Freeview and since its launch, the package has been enthusiastically adopted by consumers.

There is some debate over the exact number of Freeview homes as a result of discrepancies in research methodology. The BBC recently claimed that Freeview was available in over 4 million UK homes, after taking into account those that had more than one digital receiver.

As a result, Freeview has overtaken cable in popularity in the UK, coming second only to satellite. BSkyB recently announced a free-to-view satellite service in direct response to the success of Freeview.

If ITV does indeed join the Freeview consortium, it could significantly increase the marketing budget for the service and see it being promoted across ITV as well as the BBC.

The news comes amid continued speculation that Greg Dyke, the former BBC Director General, is interested in the top job at ITV.

The success of Freeview is central to Government’s plans to convert the country to digital television by around 2010.

Just as the BBC is anxious to secure a positive outcome when its Royal Charter is renewed in 2006, so ITV executives and the city will be hoping to find favour with the Government and ease the burden of punishing franchise fees and demanding public service broadcasting requirements.